The new Iron Man is a 15-year-old African-American girl named Riri Williams. We’re all excited for a female Iron Man, and her being a minority makes it even more appealing because of the equal representation in comic books that we crave.
Marvel and Midtown Comics recently pulled J. Scott Campbell’s variant cover of Invincible Iron Man when it received a fair amount of backlash from the general public. It’s always a shame when covers get pulled, and even more concerning when it’s a retailer exclusive. The standard cover for Invincible Iron Man is $3.99. Campbell’s variant of Riri in armor is $10.00. Campbell’s variant of just Riri in pants and a crop top is $15.00.
By the looks of the standard cover artwork, Riri embodies everything a strong and powerful heroine should. She stands out, she represents heroes of color, and she looks like she’s ready to kick some ass. In J. Scott Campbell’s variant cover, Riri’s skin looks like she could be of Latino or mixed descent. Beyond this, she is in a suggestable pose; it isn’t one of power, with her hip thrusted outward, her hand forward, and her bust as…busty as it is. People have been criticizing Campbell for taking away the minority aspect of Riri and sexualizing a teenager, too.
I understand the criticism and anger, but there is more to take into consideration here than just what’s on the page. In terms of lighter skin, I’ll admit that yeah, her skin tone is quite a bit lighter. This could be because of instructions that Campbell was given, a model he used (in this case, Skai Jackson), a photograph used as reference, or even light sources. We can see that there is a light source just to the right of Riri, as well as a window behind her that goes out of frame—so we can’t tell how long it is or how much light it is letting in. Light sources are a big part of any good and effective artist’s illustrations.
As for Riri’s “suggestable” pose, it has been said that she is only 15, the pose is borderline porn, and her general stance isn’t one of power, with her hip thrusted outward, a large bust, and her hand pointed forward. This really isn’t a stance that says “superhero.” It looks more like “girl power” or something to that effect. The series is trying to pull in a mostly female audience at the moment, so this kind of pose actually seems rather appropriate. Why does she look as matured as she does? Why do kids these days look older than their ages? There are a lot of reasons from makeup to growth hormones in fast food that cause early puberty. Riri looks as natural as any teenager of the 21st century.
When Mary Jane Watson first appeared in Spider-Man comics, she was wearing jeans and a black tank. This was in the ‘60s. Essentially, she was wearing clothes that reflected the current generation and society’s general wardrobe of the time. Riri is dressed like teens dress today. With stores like Hot Topic, Forever 21, and Charlotte Russe selling more revealing clothing, how can it be avoided? Campbell’s variant cover simply reflects the current generation.
The same pose in armor is still circulating; the armor doesn’t make Riri look like any more of a superhero, but just because her midriff is covered, it’s okay. If that’s the case, what about so many other covers sexualizing teens? Cassie Sandsmark, Kate Bishop, Supergirl, etc. have all been sexualized, but haven’t received the same backlash as J. Scott Campbell has. This becomes more of an issue regarding community vs industry. Variant covers are aimed at collectors, some retailer exclusives. To someone outside the comic industry, it may look like a distasteful look at some characters. But to someone working inside the industry, it’s common.
The bottom line for a lot of people is that Riri Williams “shouldn’t” look the way she does in the variant cover. The words “should” and “shouldn’t” are really dangerous, implying that there is a universal standard as to how people need to look at any given age. This paves way for body image issues and generally body shaming. People come in all different shapes and sizes, and that’s okay.
Body shaming is quite common in comics, leaving unrealistic impressions of how people should look, like He-Man or Supergirl. These are standards that we just can’t live by, or else we’d all become self-destructive in an attempt to fulfill them.
This kind of body shaming has moved to other aspects of the industry, like cosplay. Cosplay is a beautiful art form that anyone can do. Unfortunately, it isn’t the kindest community. This past Halloween, a drinking game went around, dictating to take one shot for everyone dressed as Harley Quinn and two shots for everyone who shouldn’t be dressed as Harley Quinn. Cosplay is an expression of artistic craft and love for any given character. That love is universal among all fans of a character, not just the ones who “fit the bill.”
We are only just starting to moderately acknowledge and move away from body shaming, with the subject being brought up in comics and the creation of Faith, the first visually overweight superhero. With this kind of verification and thought process of all body shapes as simply human and not “good” or “bad”—“acceptable” or “unacceptable”—we are slowly making our way to a better, happier, and healthier community.
J. Scott Campbell’s variant cover brings about a lot of issues, but I personally can’t blame him. He was told to draw Riri that way, and he is a pinup artist drawing a teenager—what did you expect? Nonetheless, he has taken the backlash into account, and released a new illustration of Riri that is getting a lot better feedback than his original variant cover did.
I understand both aspects of the argument. With campaigns today as strong as they are, like the Black Lives Matter campaign, it’s easy to understand the criticism that Campbell received. I do, however, suggest that before you take sides, you take every aspect of the cover, the artist, and the industry into account.